Where and why to see the strongest maelstrom in the world
But what exactly IS a maelstrom I can hear you asking? Is it some kind of dark and ominous storm cloud of reckoning? Or something you might see in Lord of the Rings or read of in an epic like The Odyssey? Spoiler alert – it’s in the video below. The word maelstrom actually means crushing current. And Saltstraumen in Nordland Norway has it. Here’s why you need to see it. For yourself.
Just 30 kilometers west and then south from the town of Bodø you will find one of the most amazing places in Northern Norway. In anywhere really. Every 6 hours when the tide changes you can play witness to an astonishing display of Mother Nature’s brute forces here at Saltstraumen. This is the world’s strongest maelstrom with 400 million cubic meters of water pushing through a narrow strait that separates the islands of Knaplundsøya and Straumsøya. The strait spans 3 kilometers but is only 150 meters wide at the smallest point. When the tide changes, you can witness impressive surges as the water rushes to move between the massive Skjerstadfjord to the outer Saltfjord.
It is beyond mesmerizing to watch as the water tries to move in or out, depending on the time of day. Beautiful swirling whirlpools are created and water bubbles up in huge powerful pushes. The vortices of these can reach between 10 and 30 meters in diameter and are up to 5 meters deep. This is a dangerous place as speeds on the surface of the water may move at nearly 40 kilometers per hour. To put it simply. It is awesome. Seriously. AWE. SOME. As in full of awe. I’m still full of awe. You have to see it.
WHERE TO SEE SALTSTRAUMEN
#1 UNDER THE BRIDGE | KNAPLUNDSØYA SIDE
From Bodø, travel west on Route 80 and then south on Norwegian County Road 17. There are several viewing points, but start on the Knaplundsøya side (first parking lot on the right coming from Bodø.) Park down underneath the bridge and then follow the path to the strait. Here you can watch the water as it rushes into the narrow passage and the water pushes and churns close to shore. At peak on this side, it not difficult to get a real sense of just how much water is moving through here. If you want, you can carefully climb up into the little lighthouse here to get a better vantage point over the vortices.
#2 FROM TOP OF BRIDGE
Satisfied with the water here, you should really walk back up to the parking lot and head across the bridge. Stay on the right side. The views from the top give you a better idea of the amazing size of these whirlpools. Watch as boats expertly maneuver the calm (ish) water between the swirling and surging sides. You can take a safari in a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and run right through it. And if you are a high-speed adrenaline junkie, you should do it. But I personally think you get a better sense for the magnitude of Saltstraumen from above. Cost? Free.
#3 STRAUMSØYA SIDE
There are viewpoints on the far side, but we felt the best were closer to the island of Knaplundsøya.
WHERE TO WET YOUR WHISTLE NEAR SALTSTRAUMEN
Marveling at maelstroms can make one hungry. Good news. You can try the local fish at nearby Kjelen Kafé with beautiful views out across the Skjerfjord. Do you fish? This is a perfect place to try to pluck a torsk (cod), kveite (halibut) or sei (coalfish/saithe) from the rushing cold waters. No pole, no problem – rent one here. Or just sit on the deck and order fish for dinner. We tried the sei and the kveite served old school style with potatoes and vegetables. The sei biff (saithe steak) was delicious with sauteed onions. They also have house-made desserts, draft beer and ice cream to help keep everyone happy if fish isn’t your thing.
Opening hours summer season June 26 – August 20 | 10:00 – 22:00
Limited hours other seasons, check website.
LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCALS
Keep your eyes peeled on the way there and the way back and you might spot the elusive locals. MOOSE. Not minutes after seeing the sign, we spied two huge moose in the trees, which just added to the wonder of this beautiful area.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Check the tides before you set out to Saltstraumen, the whirlpools are the widest at high and low tide. You can check here on the Bodø Kommune website and make sure you’ll enjoy the most water.
BUSSES TO SALTSTRAUMEN
Nordlandbuss line 200 takes you from Bodø Airport or Bodø Center to Saltstraumen. It takes between 30-40 minutes. Having a car allows you to time the tides, but can be expensive to rent in Norway. On a beautiful day in summer, there is no problem hiking and exploring the area around Salten in order to wait out water at peak.
A huge tusen takk to Norwegian photographer Gøren Kristensen who shared insider tips with me before our trip. Check out his gorgeous feed on Instagram and tell him Oregon Girl said to say hej!